Made in Japan
I tend to shy away from writing about franchise and chain eateries, choosing normally to highlight independently-owned, truly local businesses. But now and then I come across a chain restaurant that doesn’t look or feel chain-like, and that is simply too good to ignore. Such is the case with Jinya Ramen Bar. There are currently 27 Jinya locations in the U.S. and Canada, including one here in Murray and another scheduled to open soon in Sugarhouse.
Jinya Ramen Bar has authentic Japanese roots: The first Jinya was opened in Tokyo in 2000 by restaurateur Tomonori Takahashi. Then, in 2010, he opened a Jinya Ramen Bar in Studio City, California, anticipating the ramen craze that would soon take hold of foodies in this country. Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold adored Jinya, and so will you.
First and foremost, Jinya is about ramen. It’s what the place is known for, and justifiably so. Ramen aficionados know that rad ramen is all about the stock. At Jinya, they simmer their ramen stocks for over ten hours. The stocks are made from whole pork bones, chicken or vegetables (depending on the type of stock), spiced with ingredients such as dashi, kombu and bonito. The Jinya cooks are so serious about their broth that they use only FUJI brand water to make it – it’s 99.9 percent free of impurities. However, for those who don’t care for broth, soup haters might enjoy Jinya’s Hiyashi Mazesoba, a brothless ramen bowl.
The other key ingredient to great ramen is, of course, noodles. Jinya ages their from-scratch, made daily, noodles for three days in order to maximize their flavor, and offers a choice of either thick or thin ramen noodles, including spinach noodles.
Well, regardless of the type of ramen and noodles you choose, you can bet the bank at Jinya that the ramen will be superb. There are three general types of ramen: tonkotsu (pork broth), chicken and vegetable. Within those categories are specific ramen choices. For example, tonkotsu variations include “Sprouting up Ramen,” “Tonkotsu Spicy,” “Tonkotsu Black,” Spicy Umami Miso Ramen,” and “Sukiyaki Q Ramen.” If you like thick ramen noodles, try the Tonkotsu Spicy, served mild, spicy or hot, with spicy bean sprouts and a spicy sauce. Cilantro lovers will enjoy the chicken-based “Slurp Up Cilantro” ramen, with lots of cilantro, lime juice, chili sauce and thin noodles.
“Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen” at Jinya begins with slow-simmered vegetable broth and ingredients like tofu, green onion, spinach, garlic chips, chili oil, sesame seeds and more. My favorite Jinya ramen is the most traditional: Tonkotsu Black is heavenly pork broth with sliced pork chashu, kikurage, scallions, nori, seasoned egg, garlic, fried onion and thin noodles. To customize any of the ramens – which are served in heavy, earthen soup bowls – there are nearly 30 toppings to choose from, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, mushroom, cabbage, butter, tofu, corn, poached egg, and many more.
However, there is much more to Jinya than merely ramen. The menu includes rice bowls and curries, mini tacos, salads, snacks, desserts and small plate offerings. I especially enjoy starting a meal with a Jinya Bun: a steamed bun stuffed with braised, tender pork chashu, cucumber, and baby greens, served with Jinya’s original bun sauce and kewpie mayo.
Snack items to munch on include spicy wasabi peas, edamame, or crispy fried chick peas. I also always like to share an order of (6) homemade pork gyoza Japanese dumplings, lightly crisped on one side and served with dipping sauce alongside.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy the crispy chicken at Jinya. Available in five, ten, or fifteen piece order sizes, this is boneless fried chicken thigh meat seasoned with garlic pepper and served with mixed baby greens and deliciously fruity ponzu sauce.
If you need further motivation for visiting Jinya, you might be happy to know that they serve craft beers, in addition to soft drinks, teas and assorted other beverages. Like I said, Jinya Ramen Bar is a franchise business, but the local, super-friendly and helpful staff there sure makes it feel like a one-off, mom and pop eatery.
Culinary quote of the week:
Contemporary ramen is totally different than what most Americans think ramen should be. Ramen is not one thing; there are many, many different types. — David Chang
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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